How Our Alal-apos Outwitted Headhunters

Author’s Note: The recent ‘panag-aapoy/panag-dedenet’ (literally translated to lighting of fires) to warm the gravestones of our dearly departed made me reminiscent of a couple of Lola Banayan’s stories. She recounted mini-tales of how some early village folks escaped the blades of imminent deaths from the unscrupulous hunts of ruthless headhunters (referred to as ‘buso’ in the common lingo) by either using their wits or with the uncanny help of nature itself. As yet another disclaimer, I can only rely on the hyper-imaginative brain of a story-hungry toddler in retelling these so forgive the embellishments and the nuances that are sure to be inevitable.

The Warrior by James Gabriel Wandag


The Old Man in the Hut

A man who spent a long day toiling in his fields made the decision to spend the night in a little hut to wait until daybreak before he makes his way back home. The hut was by no means the most comfortable but it had a roof, four walls and a door–enough to pass the night in. Soon after he settled in, he heard some scuffling outside the hut. He carefully peered through one of the holes and saw two unfamiliar men who appeared to be headhunters. He knew right away that he had no chance against two men unless he does something quick.

He thought of running through the fields as he was sure he knew the area more than these non-villagers but he also realized that it was too dark outside and that made this option riskier. He checked his little knapsack for any content that he could use and saw that he only had kindlewood, a couple of matchsticks, and his ‘abilao’ (musical instrument made of bamboo reeds which is played by putting it between the lips while you strum one end with your finger as you blow it).

He lit one of the matchsticks and very soon, he had a little fire ablaze inside the hut. He went to one corner and in a deep voice said, “My friend, the night is cold. Why don’t you throw more wood into that fire you built.” He then went to the opposite corner and said in his normal voice, “Yes mister, it’s lucky I gathered a lot of wood earlier today.” He put some of the kindlewood on the fire then went to another corner. Then in a slightly higher tone, he said, “Brother, I believe you brought with you that abilao of yours. Would you indulge us with a tune or two.” Slowly he crept to a different side of the hut, pulled his little instrument and played a lively jig.

The two headhunters outside had been listening all the while to the conversations inside the hut. If their count was right, there were four men inside! Who knew if there were more? And so realizing that the two of them had no chance against four or so men, they quietly crept away from the hut.

Who knows how long this quick-witted man kept the pretense of not being alone inside the hut. But morning came and he was safe and alive!


The Girl Against Nine

Houses long ago did not have the comforts of indoor toilets. One needs to go outside to the backyard to do his or her business. So it was for a girl who had to go out to pee in the black pitch of the night.

She never suspected that there was a handful of ‘buso’ who were ready to go on a midnight hunt. They were prowling just nearby when this unsuspecting girl positioned herself to pee in front of them like it was no one’s business, as it should be. The headhunters were caught off guard and stood immobile on their spots while this girl proceeded to pee. The girl must had so much ‘tapey’ (rice wine) or water to drink during dinner that her pee noisily gushed. It made this distinctive sound that unmistakably said “Sham, sham, sham, sham!”. Lo! When the headhunters counted themselves, there were exactly nine of them! ‘Sham/siyam’ in the local dialect means nine.

It was the age of strong superstition so the ‘buso’ took this as a bad omen for headhunting. So they went away as silently as they came. The unsuspecting girl finished her business, still very clueless that she just escaped possible throes of danger and went back to sleep soundly.


The Old Woman and Her Flowers

An old woman was busy digging for camotes when a swarm of flies buzzed around her. She hastily swatted them away but they persistently flew around her, landing on her arms, her face, her legs, while noisily buzzing.

She stopped and wondered as she realized that the flies were singling her out. They weren’t flying anywhere else but on the spot where she stood. She took it as a sign that something foreboding was about to happen. She climbed the little hill that partially blocked her view from the other fields yonder and that’s when she saw three sinister men headed towards her way. Suspecting that they were headhunters, she immediately devised a plan and prayed to the gods that her little play will scare the men away. What’s a poor, frail woman against three sturdy men?

She cast off all her clothes and quickly gathered the brightly-colored flowers that were growing aplenty nearby. The flowers were in orange, yellow, but mostly red. She tied as much as she can to all the hair she has on her body–the hairs on her head, on her arms, her legs. She twisted her form in such a way that made her body ugly and crooked, then she walked towards the men.

In a shrill but unafraid voice, she chanted and hummed. Walking directly to where the headhunters were. The men seeing and hearing her got so scared out of their wits! They had no doubt it was a witch of sorts that was heading towards them. One can only imagine the powers this ghastly-looking, crooked woman in all her naked glory and seemingly ablaze with those blood red flowers has! They rapidly took off back to where they came from before the ‘witch’ even got close.

When the men fled, the old woman carefully plucked away the flowers from her body, put back her clothes on, and headed to her home safely where she cooked her freshly-dug sweet potatoes.


These are just three of the many headhunter-related stories that I could at least recall with a certain level of vividness. I really pray another inspiration will strike me to remember the rest real soon before I forget. Here’s to always keeping your memory alive, alapo!

Of Gods and Wine

“Tinagtago, Tapey, Tagay!”

Definitely one of the indisputable challenges of living away from home is missing the local tastes and flavours. Though it’s always thrilling to explore something new and different, taming the palate to not crave for tastes that one’s accustomed to does not happen overnight.

Hence my delight when after three years, I was finally able to once again have a genuine, non-commercial, homemade “tapey”. I was brought to tears with elation. Because that’s how powerful food can be. It’s not just the euphoric gastronomical experience but the emotions that come with it. And in this case, “tapey” is home–a surge of heartwarming memories that involved a daringly playful childhood, a warm hearth all day long in my grandpa’s hut, village parties, “watwats” and “kikans”, lavish offerings to the deities and the gods.

 

The beauty of Sagada’s tapey is that we are taught to enjoy it in its unrefined version–to indulge in both the fermented rice and the juice alike. But since we’re making and selling the rice wine commercially these days, we now see them mostly in packaged and corked bottles.

Vintners are now featuring other varieties from local produce; bugnay, blueberries, lemon, persimmon, strawberry, and mulberry to name a few. (CTTO)

Japan’s sake and or the Chinese rice wine is not any different in terms of the fermentation methodology. But for some reason or reasons, the tastes are tremendously different. So when I was on the quest for finding a traditional “tapey” here in Vancouver and got kind recommendations to get Chinese rice wine as an alternative, I said, it just won’t do. I have to have that familiar taste.

Local winemakers tend to be meticulous in choosing the ingredients they work with. I’ve seen and heard numerous times that the secret lies in the “bubud” (yeast) used. Our local yeast come in hardened, pancake-shaped chunks that you simply crumble and add to cooked red rice (balatinaw) as required. These are not widely sold however that I remember having to  scour the public market to look for one before.

Bubud, a small chunk is enough to ferment a jarful of balatinaw rice. (CTTO)

As grapes are fermented and stored in casks made out of oak and other kinds of wood that contribute to the woody or vanillin flavors of red wines, “tapey” is traditionally aged in heirloom jars, thus keeping the purity of the red rice. Sugar can also be added to alter sweetness levels as desired. No wonder my grandmother can finish a bowl of “tapey” like it was just porridge.

I originally searched for “tapey” in this city hoping I could utilize it as an ingredient in a pastry I was working on. But when I uncapped the jar and got a whiff of its contents, all I could think of now is blowtorching a whole broiler and making myself a hearty pot of home. Then I would call on my ancestors and the deities to partake of this local ambrosia. Pinikpikan it is!

Etag, And Everything That Comes With It

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Raw pork, “speared” during Begnas.

We used to jokingly say you can never claim to have tried genuine Sagada “etag” (cured pork) if you haven’t had one with those wriggling “foodstuff” that sometimes come with a chunk. I had my fair share way back and fortunately had the stomach to literally stomach it. But of course that’s not a recommendation. Contamination in food is a definite no-no. This just shows though that our local methods were a work in progress way back. I’d like to believe we’ve come far from the crude ways we utilized before and are now more meticulous and mindful with our preservation techniques.

Like the ancient civilizations that experimented and or accidentally discovered methods to extend food perishability, our local forefathers used meat preservation procedures that are still prevalent in today’s local food practices. Curing pork has been a tradition that most possibly dates back to the earliest settlers in our “ili” (village). Salt is generously spread on big slabs of pork, left to dry for several days, smoked then stored–accessed when an occasion calls for it.

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© stock.adobe.com

Salt was a luxurious commodity decades ago. My grandmother recounted traversing mountains with a sack of produce on her back to exchange for a pound or two of salt with our lowland brothers, the Ilocanos. This image never fails to plaster on my mind every time I extravagantly season every dish I make with these priceless crystals.

As an elder of the village, Lolo always got one of the best part as his “watwat” (meat share when a pig is butchered during a festivity). He’d then spend days working on his slab and I could just gape but not allowed to ask too many questions. This was decades ago but I can still see myself tailing him to the back of our “inatep” (nipa house) where the magic happens.

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CTTO; Etag, up for grabs in the market.

A typical Sagada etag would be cured following these procedures. Variations are employed in-between depending on preferences but it generally follows the preservation method that’s done for pork; salting, sun-drying, smoking, storage.

  • Choose a slab of pork that has some fat and skin on it.
  • Apply a generous amount of salt to cover the entire chunk.
  • Sun-dry the meat for three days to a couple of weeks. The longer, the more flavourful.
  • Cold-smoke the meat. Be careful to strategically place the meat where the heat can’t cook it but smoke can reach it. Smoking is done until the desired color and outside texture is achieved. Avoid using resinous wood as this causes bitterness. Sagada folks primarily use alnus (common alder) wood.
  • Etag can be stored in room temperature in air-tight containers or wrapped with paper and stored in dark places to avoid moisture development.

*Some skip the smoking part and simply store the salted pork in earthen jars. Etag cured this way misses the reddish dark coloring that is typical of the common Sagada etag.

Like the mold that forms when cheese is aged, a thin, whitish mold would cover the etag after a few days. Maggots also hatch on the meat. Unfortunately, you can’t protect the salted meat from flies 24/7. This then requires a rigorous amount of washing prior to cooking. And of course boiling the meat in 100 °C or more to kill any bacteria that may still be thriving therein.

For the uninitiated, etag is not the kind of food that is love at first bite. Especially if one has seen those wriggly little “flavours” before they were washed off. Interesting how it was even featured as the top most bizarre Filipino food because of such. But as earlier mentioned, we’ve come a long way from the unrefined methods we’ve employed decades ago.

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Masferre’s Sagada Etag; A pioneer in the vacuum-packaging of the native delicacy.

Today, we see more advanced ways to preserve the etag. Local entrepreneurs are even packaging this native delicacy in vacuum-sealed packets thus ensuring longevity and the prospect of importing it for sale to far places.

It is a celebrated native gourmet that Sagada has repackaged its annual town fiesta to showcase the etag as its major theme. The ingredient is featured as a main element in various dishes, to show that it can be furthered as a dish. Not just as what we’ve grown accustomed to, an enhancer to the “pinikpikan”, but a standout on its own.

The etag’s flavour profile is so distinct that personally I cannot classify it as a ham, bacon, or any cured pork product that has used similar procedures in its preservation. The secret might be with the species of the wood used to smoke it. Maybe the local pig and the local slop it has eaten. Or maybe, those wriggly “foodstuff”? That’s a secret I would not be so keen to uncover for everyone to know.

“Batik-o” Had Me At Hello

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“Pinikpikan” by James Gabriel A. Wandag

Food captivated me the moment I entered my grandfather’s nipa hut when I was barely four years old. My young mind vividly recalls the sight of corn, tied in a bunch and drying near the “dapwan” (hearth), meat that was darkened by the smoke, and the sound of chickens clucking somewhere in the corner. There was a sharp, distinct smell permeating the cramped indoor which I could not register then. I only came to find out, months later, that it was the aroma of “etag”, pork that was cured the Sagada way.

I consider myself lucky growing up with grandparents who enriched me with traditional ways. I was a daring kid who climbed up mulberry and nisperos trees with the neighborhood boys, the one who proudly came home in the evenings with scraped knees and insect bites. What had always been a treat though was being called off the dusty Dao-angan road by Lolo Bacagan an evening every week so I could go wolf down the “batikuleng/batik-o” (gizzard) while Lola had the “eges” (intestines) after Lolo finishes his prayers and “atang” (offering) to the “anitos” (spirits). I had older siblings but Lolo always set aside the “batik-o” for me. That made me feel really special.

“Pinikpikan” was the highlight of my weekends. Lolo would butcher his choicest chicken, slice generous slabs of his “etag”, scoop a ladle or two of his prized “tapey” (fermented rice) from an aged “gusi” (ornate jar) and produce the most delectable dish from the “dapwan”. My siblings and I would huddle with our grandparents as we heartily grabbed heaps of rice from a common serving plate we call a “bituto”. We each had a “sukong or apagan” (bowl made from coconut shell) that we can fill and refill to our hearts’ and stomachs’ content.

The delights I experienced from this native delicacy propelled my fascination with food and flavours. Unfortunately, it was a small town where folks send their kids to the city to become nurses and engineers. Pursuing a career in the culinary arena was rather unexplored in my time. That or it was a repressed passion for me that I was just too scared to venture on. Until now.

I realize now that my childhood was an introduction to a romance with food that was only rekindled when I reached my thirties. It’s extremely terrifying to be thinking about doing a leap between careers at this stage in my life but I know that passing up the opportunity would not only make me unhappy but will guarantee that I’ll forever be haunted by these native edibles that I can never rediscover, explore and innovate if I don’t equip myself with the appropriate and ample knowledge and training to guide me on.

We have rich local flavors that can easily be enhanced with the freshest produce from our backyard gardens. In a world where food movement is rapidly evolving to suit different lifestyles and preferences, and the ways to enjoy an ingredient is countless, I am inspired with this little dream to learn about our flavorful roots, and share. Food is meant to make us happy. Food is meant to be shared.

I’m embarking on this long overdue journey of food discovery and appreciation. They say the best way to begin is to go back where it all started. That means revisiting what made the “pinikpikan” explode with flavors. What makes it a staple in Igorot dinner tables since time immemorial? What makes it distinct? How can I describe that wonderful aftertaste? What spikes the flavor? Is it the “etag”, was it the way the chicken was butchered? I’ve eaten the dish probably a thousand times but I’m realizing just now how naive, if not clueless,  I am. Maybe I’ll start with the “etag”. And that is a story for another post.

 

Sagada Folk Tales: Si Sal-salak-en

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It’s that dreaded time of the year when the sun will never take a peep out from the ominous dark skies and you have to wet-proof yourself from the non-stop downpours. Such weather dampened an already gruesome Monday morning as I find myself stuck at the bus stop for a ride that will seemingly never come. I had no one but these crows to keep me company. Foreboding.

In one of Lola’s many stories, there was this character, Sal-salak-en. Not much is known about her other than the fact that she was kind and hardworking. A certain bird then brought a life-changing fortune to her one day. Leading to the moral that if you are good, you will be rewarded. Well I always envisioned that bird in the story as a crow. And seeing all these crows cawing noisily without a care for this weather made me remember this exasperating little bird that meant nothing but good though. Now I will attempt to re-tell the story in our native Kankana-ey so as not to lose its novelty.

Id kasin wada nan kangadan si Sal-salak-en. Nagaget ya naanus ay ipogaw. Inagew ay umey lumukso ta wada ipakana sinan ad-ado ay anan-ak na.

Madanagan sha esa’y agew usto ay tukabana nan bagasan tay maid sinkagemgem si nabay-an. Danat kanan en ta umey mangubi ta ilaok na sinan ati-atik ay bagas ta wada umanayana si kanen da.

Magedwa et nan um-a ay kaykaykayen Sal-salak-en dapay maid makubkubana si ubi. Ngem ipapati na kayet ta bareng wada’y ulay tulo si sa makidkidan. Madama sisha’y mangubkubkob dat wada nan dedengena ay menkalkali sinan igid di um-a.

Sal-salak-en, depapem saken. Sal-salak-en, depapem sak-en.”

Ikakamon Sal-salak-en ay umey mang-anap nu sino menkalkali danat maila nan te-e-te-en ay kuyat. “Ineh dakan dumungaw. Ala man lang ta depapek sika ta isaak sika ta wada balbalay san kimmot ko.”

Isunga danat depapen san kuyat et ippey na sinan atubang na. Maid lima’y minutos dat kasin manakali san kuyat. “Sal-salak-en, aka ta utowem sak-en. Sal-salak-en, aka ta utowem sak-en.”

Kanan Sal-salak-en en tutuwengena ngem adi sumalsaldeng ay menpukpuka-at san kuyat. Isunga danat isaldeng nan ik-ikkana danat umey et utowena ta guminekana. Danat taynan san banga ay nautowana et umey na kasin ituloy ay mangubi. Maawni pay ya sana kasin di menkalkali. “Sal-salak-en, aka ta kanem sak-en. Salsalak-en, aka ta kanem sak-en.”

Nakibtot si Salsalak-en tay dan nauto lang garuden nan kuyat ya daan ay menkalkali. Ngem danat ikakamo et menkakana bareng tay dey dadlo nakan et maid et mangdungdungaw ken sisha. Egay sha nabsug tay te-e-te-en ay kuyat nan insibo na ngem mengasing sha tay dey dadlo maid distorbo sinan mangubi-ana.

Aye di kibtot na ustoy kanakali san kuyat sinan eges na! “Sal-salak-en, itakkim sak-en. Sal-salak-en, itakkim sak-en!”

“Ayta ka pay si kuyat ay dakan nakan dakapay daan ay menkalkali!” Makaliget si Sal-salak-en ay mangwani ngem dat umey sisha sinan igid di um-a na et itakki na san kinan na. Danat kasin umey ituloy san ubla na.

Namasdem et dapay pulos nu wada nadas-ana si ubi. Madanagan sisha nu ngan di sana ipakan sinan anan-ak na. Dat bigla wada manakali sinan igid di um-a. “Sal-salak-en, ilam pud sak-en!” Menligos pay si Sal-salak-en dat deey di batang di luban ay tinmubo san nangipabal-ana san kuyat. Dadakel ay ninkabubulin san begas san luban. Ado nan naum ya ado gedan nan egay.

Mengasing si Salsak-en ay mangbulas sinan luban. Inuma sisha si naum ya egay. “Naay dadlo’y sami kanen si malabi.” Kanana sinan nemnem na. Adi pay dat sumaa et sisha. Mid ubi ay kalgan san laba na ngem wada nan kaluba-luban.

Sumaa pay sisha danat tukaban nan esang ay naum ay luban dat bagas nan kalga na! Tukabana nan esang ay egay kaum dat du-om abes nan mentete-e! Aye di gasing Sal-salak-en.

Manipud sidi, egay et kasin kau-uwat nan anan-ak na. Bubumgas kanayun san luban. Basta umey menbulas sisha et kaneg na mamadnge kayet nan kalin di kuyat ay kega menselsat mangmangwani en “Sal-salak-en!”

Writer’s Note: Narrative is based solely on recollections from an evening storytelling beside the dying embers of the ‘dapwan’. For any deviations that may in one way or another alter or debase the original, apologies in advance. Inputs are welcomed with gladness and enthusiasm. 🙂

As they light those fires, I reminisce…

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Calvary Hill Cross

My earliest memories of the Anglican cemetery of St. Mary the Virgin in Sagada that we fondly call “Kamusanto”  (Campo Santo) with the eloquence of the local tongue were when I was but 5 or 6 years of age. I went there with my old man for almost two weeks straight when he was constructing double tombs to lay my grandparents in the future when they pass away. Yes. We made their final resting places way ahead of time.

The place didn’t have as many graves and headstones as it does now so I have vivid memories of a lot of green and red-brown dirt and me going home with a lot of knee scrapes caused by hopping from one tomb to the other.

I’ve wondered how come we were making the burial chambers in advance when I see both my grandparents being strong and healthy. Lolo could still lead the ‘amam-a’s‘ in the dap-ay and he had this voice and aura that somehow made him seem taller than his actual six feet. Lola on the other hand could not be stopped from going to the fields to ‘manungtung‘ and ‘mangubi‘ (gather camote tops and roots). My mother said building these ahead of time actually makes the lives of people meant to be interred therein longer. That made me happy and I didn’t question that any further.

Whether the belief held or not, my grandfather succumbed to cancer five or six years after his tomb was completed. His wife, my grandma, lived on to be 103 years old. I guess that somehow proves the belief then.

For the next few years after my lolo’s demise, the ‘Kamusanto‘ has been a sanctuary for me. I find myself wandering to his place late in the afternoons simply because I enjoyed the tranquility and peace riddled within the boneyard. I’d bring my textbooks and hard bounds and spend long hours studying, reading, or napping right on top of lolo’s tomb. It may seem like a creepy way to have a me-time but the place never gave off the eerie ambience most cemeteries are expected to have. I’d often find empty booze bottles snuck inside the vacant cavern next to my grandpa’s which proved the fact that I was not alone when I say the place is not at all a scary place to chill. Heck, those punks who drank those 4 x 4’s most probably after town curfew are way more courageous to go drink their poison amongst the dead. Cemetery ‘jamming’, anyone?

These graves and  the spirits therein have probably seen so much more than we let on. Drunken confessions, lovers’ trysts, first kisses, first heartbreaks, first drag of that stick that made you cough, last embraces, last tears.

Even for non-locals, the place cannot be missed as it is strategically located as a scenic detour when going to the Echo Valley and the Underground River.

Much controversy arose before too when this gigantic network erected its tower, looming right over the tombstones and monuments.

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Much-publicized “Panag-aapoy” (Locals honor their dead by lighting redwood on every single headstone.)

The years have seen so much physical changes as expected. Imprinted in my earlier memory is this spacious hill–a lot of white but so much more grass and dirt. Today, the whites have crawled higher, lower, southward and northward. But obviously the vibe is still the same. It remains a buoyant place and so much alive, a nice irony. And this is probably why it’s always poignant to be unable to join the family when we do the yearly remembrance for departed loved ones during All Saints’ Day. Like I know I can always do my thing from wherever I am. I was brought up with the teachings of ‘atang‘ and ‘luwalo‘ (offerings and prayers) so I still light my little candle and leave a shot glass of booze and fruit on the side (and chug the remaining contents of the bottle of course). But actually being there, getting sooty and smoked with the rest of the family is something that’s really missed.

First recollections of the place were those long hours with my dad, now he’s resting there himself. I never fail to visit every chance I get whenever I’m home. I walk my dogs there often that I can guarantee they know their way around, even without me.

There’s no telling what other changes our beloved Kamusantu will witness and undergo in the coming years. But nothing can change my sentiments about it. The way the place enthralled me with its serenity and peace will always be what I’ll look forward to– living, and in the afterlife.

                                                          #inRemembrance

Sagada Folk Tales: The Legend of Lake Danum

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Lake Danum/Banao in its glorious greenery. (Flicker Image)

Way before this placid little lake became a subject of  boundary issues and there was no dissent whether to call it Banao or Danum; long before cows grazed its now dwindling patches of green, and before flocks of tourists did jump shots against a mesmerizing fiery backdrop of the sunset,  this place was once a plain plateau, a waterless mesa en route to barter places with our lowland brothers. Now the story of how the lake came about has varied through the years. But I will attempt to retell it the way my grandma awed me with the tale the best way I can.

“A man was on his way to exchange his pig with some lowland products that were scarce in his highland home. Presumably he would have been on his way to Besao where traders would convene. As he was passing through what is now the expanse of water that we know as the lake, he spotted an old lady sitting on the ground.

This lady requested the man to spare some of his time so he could help her get rid of the lice on her head. This generous man obliged without any qualms. He then realized that it was not just lice that was populating the old lady’s head. There were little snakes and worms and all sorts of poisonous insects. He was a bit alarmed but he slowly removed these little critters till her head was free of any parasite. He did so meticulously and without the slightest hint of disgust. When he was done, the old lady gave the man a bundle of pine needles and straw with the advise that he put them in his granary for the night. He was puzzled with this strange suggestion but he never questioned the woman and did as instructed. The next morning, he was greatly bewildered to find his granary overflowing with the finest rice.

Now this man lived in  small village and naturally everyone was curious, if not envious of the good fortune that has befallen him. His neighbor immediately set off in the same direction carrying his fattest pig. He saw the old lady in the same place. He scornfully obliged when she made the same request that he remove the lice from her long locks. How he reacted when he saw that the woman’s head was a little jungle of insects and snakes! He spat, cursed and shuddered in disgust. By the time he was done removing the vermin from her head, he was a picture of revulsion and contempt. Nonetheless, she gave him the same bunch of pine needles and straw. When the man turned towards home though, he stood immobile on his spot then gradually changed into a wooden post. The woman then magically disappeared.

Not very long after, a man and his son were out gathering wood. When they saw this stout wooden post in the middle of the field, the man slashed it with his bolo and out gushed water that overflowed in all directions. The pair had to run fast towards higher ground to save themselves from the angry waters. Gradually, the water ebbed and calmed to what we see it now. Lake Danum.”

They say that bit of the very same post still stands erect somewhere within the lake. Maybe one of these days, I’ll endeavor to find it.

 

***Danum is the Kankana-ey and Ilocano term for water. Translating the name to a redundant Lake Water.***

Dear Local Tourist

In photo: R.K. Brett @ Kiltepan Sunrise Viewdeck

Another long weekend has passed and you’re probably posting your pictures on Facebook and Instagram about your marvelous trip to Sagada. Those numerous photos you’ve taken using that ridiculous monopod which you’ve waved around town while you clicked at ooh-this and aah-that with your face always somewhere in the picture. You become the envy of your friends for you were able to ‘conquer’ Sagada and you went on indulging them with your stories of mountains and Igorots. Blah-blah, yada-yada.

Forgive the cynicism but you make us hostile. Yes you bring moolah to our place. You eat our food, sleep in our beds, buy our goods—you’ve created one major livelihood for us. But this does not entitle you to act like you own the town. The first rule in entering a place beyond your territory is to display utmost respect to its people, their values, and the environment. If you cannot do that, then Sagada is undeniably not for you.

You must have overlooked the fact that Sagada is a small 5th class municipality and we’ve never packaged our place as a pretentious getaway haven that caters to your city comforts (not unless you’ve been misled by your travel agencies who, if you happen to know, are not natives to the place and do not know jack about the community). It grates our ears when you come here being stuck up while you look for your Starbucks and your McDonald’s. You snobbishly demand for towels and hotel amenities from our lodges and homestays yet you must have forgotten that you’re only paying a measly sum for your accommodation (FYI, we have the cheapest inn charges). (Another side but necessary note: My blood still boils whenever I think of that cheap visitor who stole my boots and my books when we’ve graciously welcomed you to utilize my own room just so you can have a roof over your head for the night.) Our wood-paneled rooms are clean, warm, and cozy and if you think you should be getting more than these from your 300PhP or less, then you’re bonkers. We don’t run hotels, we’re humble innkeepers.

You grumble sneeringly at our fluctuating internet signal and act as if your disconnection from wawawa means your life. We don’t need to remind you that you’re in a rustic town way up high in the mountains where people have long since lived lavishly and generously without the internet and your urban sophistications.

You know, we’re willing not to mind your tactless disregard of our reverence and preference for simple living—that which we wish to supposedly share with you. But you go beyond being gauche. You come to our place and ask for jutes or mj or ganja like it’s buying pandesal from the next door bakery. You regard the locals as if we’re nitwits and you mock our ethnicity with your ignorance. Your incessant and stupid (for lack of a better but apt term) queries about where to find Igorots with their tails, Igorots who stage dances for your sheer pleasure, and Igorots living in caves makes the Igorot in me want to throw my Igorot spear at you.

You come and litter our place without the tiniest thought for our town’s cleanliness, cause public disturbance like you’re still back in your sleepless cities, invoke heavy traffic with your vans and SUVs—mindless of ‘no parking’ signages posted right where you senselessly parked your vehicle. You do not heed our municipal ordinances and even have the audacity to be arrogant when we try to relay these to you.

It’s pretty obvious I’ve zeroed in on local tourists. Truth is, we’ve grown biased and have come to appreciate foreign visitors more because they know how to appreciate us back. Since the town opened its doors to tourism decades back, foreigners have kept on coming back for the countryside experience which Sagada primarily offers. They come with nothing else but their big backpacks and the expectations of delightful experiences with our nature and our people. They don’t come seeking for what’s not here, they’re not pretentious, they give reverence to our traditions and are not at all ignorant with regards to Sagada’s taboos and values.

Though time has inevitably changed the whole backdrop, we have kept our values in place. We Sagadans still appreciate the same things. We give the highest reverence to our simplistic rural life and if you can’t respect that, you and your toffee-nosed self do not deserve the Sagada experience.

I have to stop. My obvious hostility might drive you away. Do bear in mind that I do not at all reflect the whole town’s sentiments. And as another disclaimer, I am not generalizing. There are a lot of local tourists who are in awe of the place and its people, for what it is and for who we are. You are the kind of visitors we would love to keep on coming back.

Respect begets higher respect. So if you encounter a Sagadan with raised brows and you find we’re not as friendly and hospitable as we innately are, you know there’s a reason for our hostility.

Pinay Diaries: Going Dorothy (There’s No Place Like Home)

Life now. :)
Life now. 🙂

It’s been a month. After making that fateful decision of starting a new life away from what I’ve grown accustomed to for more than two years (albeit not comfortably as I would have wanted to), I now find myself smelling like a dog, gaining more than a few unnecessary pounds, being a freeloader under Mama’s roof, and basking in the pressure-less lifestyle of the unemployed.

The ultimate resolution to come home was a choice that was spurred both by circumstances which I don’t have control over on and the personal resolve that I mulled over for countless sleepless nights. But I am not writing this to justify whether I made the better decision or not. I write this for the sole reason to emphasize that nothing will ever come close to the bliss and contentment of being home with your loved ones.

 For the past weeks, I’ve occupied myself with spending time with the family. I’ve devoted myself to the idea of making the most of home as I realized how much I have missed the simple yet irreplaceable joys of family and being home.

 Each day is met with luxuriating under the covers while the hairs of my ears prickle with the morning chill. Nothing says good morning better than the sound of roosters crowing and the familiar smell of Arabica coffee. The rest of the day is spent juggling hours among trekking, biking, walking the dogs, some house chores, making myself a bit useful in my sister’s shop (though I could only do so much), and struggling to steal internet connection that has drastically been evasive since I came back.

 Life back in my hometown has never seemed so busy and exciting. Knowing how easily I tire from routine, I anticipate my butt to start itching probably when I reach the second month mark. But for some reason or reasons, I don’t fear the uncertainty. That of which has always plagued me to my wits’ end before. The uncertainty I’m expecting nowadays has never felt safer. Strange, but yes. I’m welcoming the ambiguity with open arms. This decision has obviously paved me a blank slate so I could start with anything—either it be the most expected next step or a completely unforeseen one. Whatever the next stride would be, I’m sure it’s going to be awesome.

 The best thing about being back home is the feeling of security and safety. Being assured that your loved ones have your back, even physically this time, is just priceless. So yes, I’m not saying I’ve closed my doors to the possibilities of life outside my comfort zone. New is good. Change is good. Foreign is good. But not now. Till then, I’ll be very happy filling out my diary pages with how green the hills are, how crazy the dogs can get and how delicious ‘daing’ is especially when you eat it with your bare hands.

Experience the Ultimate Jamaican Vibe at Ysagada Downtown Bistro

Le Bob; the reggae icon who has tremendously influenced the locals' music preference.
Le Bob; the reggae icon who has tremendously influenced the locals’ music preference.

Your Sagada experience will not be complete if you don’t dedicate some hours getting lost in the Jamaican vibe that the locals are particularly fond of. The legendary Marley’s reggae influence has found home in this rustic tourist town.

The new place in town is Ysagada Downtown Bistro. Formerly, “Kusina Ysagada”, YSAGADA has undergone a major revamp by converting the cafe into a bistro that embraces you with a reggae ambience.

Simplistic, chill and cozy-homey. Enjoy good food and refreshing drinks at the town’s coolest reggae hangout.  We are located at Dao-angan, Sagada near  Ayeona Souvenirs and George’s Guesthouse. A ten-minute leisure walk from the town center, Dao-angan is the new prime spot in town.

As a plus, get to meet the town’s local artist, Mr. James Gabriel Wandag who co-owns and manages the place with wife Antonette. James is the talent behind majority of the famous Sagada artistic and statement shirts. If you get lucky, you can have your own shirt or any artwork customized to your own liking.

Welcome and enjoy!
Welcome and enjoy!